Uditi Sharma is a 16-year-old change-maker passionate about using technology for social good. She is the founder and executive director of Elevate Tech, a non-profit organisation with a mission to empowering gender minorities through technology and entrepreneurship.

She speaks about her journey. Founder of the First Step, a YouTube channel that features interviews of young achievers.

What prompted you to set up Elevate Tech?

As my Class IX examinations got over, I had a lot of free time to learn about computer science and participate in online coding events. I had been coding apps and websites since middle school, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity for me. However, noticed that barely any girls were present at these events- if any at all! saw potential in turning such events into an avenue for bringing in more girls into the tech space. So, was motivated to create an organisation to empower young girls like myself who were just venturing into the world of technology. Back when started the non-profit. I didn't know it would become something so big and involve and impact thousands of people worldwide. I started by doing small workshops teaching my friends and their siblings how to code. To this day, teaching code is one of my favorite things to do. Slowly, my initiative became more extensive, and more people attended our workshops and events. As the organisation grew, we spent a lot of time brainstorming ideas for a large-scale, impact-driven event that would allow attendees to use technology for social good and empower others around them. This resulted in Elevate Hacks, a 48-hour hackathon. After Elevate Hacks, we have dedicated our time to other events, such as our fellowship and mentorship programmes. We're currently planning to host the second edition of our hackathon this year.

Tell us more about Elevate Hacks. What kind of impact did it create?

We held our first hackathon event in July 2020. We had over 600 young girls from 35 countries around the globe who got together to create websites and apps that solved problems in their communities, resulting in the development of 65 products within two days! I knew my efforts from over six months serving as the lead and sponsorships director of the hackathon paid off when I saw the fantastic community of problem-solvers and entrepreneurs we had brought together.

In addition, we had over 20 guest speakers, workshop hosts, and panellists throughout the event to keep our audience engaged and encouraged, teaching them upcoming technologies such as machine learning and iOS app development.

What is your motivation to organise hackathons and similar events? What are your next steps?

Hackathons inspire me because of their focus on collaboration and problem-solving. At hackathons, you can find solutions to the world's biggest problems with the support of so many others around you. I firmly believe technology and entrepreneurship can together solve the world's most pressing issues and it's so important to have young women be a part of this change.

As the hackathon ended, we researched improving the experiences of our hackers and began working on other impactful events. We learned the need for a long-term engagement that offered the same supportive hackathon culture but gave our participants flexibility with their time- and came up with the Elevate Tech fellowship programme. This is a three-month-long, grant-based fellowship programme that pairs young girls passionate about using STEM for social good and provides support from industry mentors and experts as they develop their products.

You're the leader of Girl Up Dubai. Tell us more about that.

 I’ve been part of the Girl Up for over a year now, serving as a club leader. coalition leader, and most recently as the leader of the Girl Up Gender Equality Action Group leader at the United Nations Foundation's Big Brainstom. I worked with my team to create a gender-focussed climate advocacy tool-kit and presented our idea to the judging panel. This process took an intense amount of time and has made me ready to further step into the world of research-motivating me to continue working on solutions to further gender equality.

What are the projects you are working on?

love to code, and I’ve been making apps for over five years now. I have recently been working on an app called Vision Al, which aims to empower visually impacted individuals through artificial intelligence. I was inspired to work on Vision Al after seeing my grandmothers struggles with visual impairment. This app uses machine learning and image recognition to assist visually aided people in doing their everyday chores. I think the youth must learn how to solve problems using technology due to its accessibility. This urge to empower the youth through technology motivated me to create and lead IHS Launchpad, a start-up incubator at my high school with over 120 members.

What are your future plans?

Although I don't have a set path yet, I’m excited to explore technology through the lens of entrepreneurship 3 and work on impactful start-ups and non-profits. Through my work at Elevate Tech and beyond, I aspire to not only shatter the glass ceiling but also build the elevator for other women to join the revolution by bridging the gender and socio-economic gap in technology and education.

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The founder and the president of teens of cancer patients, she was inspired to set up the organisation after experiencing  first- hand the impact of a cancer diagnosis on her family.

What made you start Teens for Cancer Patients (TCP)?

Having a family member diagnosed with cancer was extremely painful for me to see. The impact on the whole family, the financial burden, the emotional trauma, and the big question, Will they survive after all of this?" all haunted me. Upon researching, I was shocked to find out that very few international cancer (non-government organisations) for teenagers existed. I realised this needed to be changed, and I saw myself as part of the solution to innovate. I created my non-profit venture to help the less privileged.

Tell us more about your campaign and fundraising by your organisation.

As many as 50% of people drop out of chemotherapy. TCP continuously strives to change this statistic. So far, we have circulated 10,000 sanitary napkins for cervical cancer awareness month. All funds raised proceed to oncologist Padma Shri Dr. Ravi Kannan, who has performed over 20,000 free surgeries. Our current awareness campaign Teens for Health' educates low-income families on the impact of cancer and the importance of staying healthy through good habits such as practising mental wellness through exercise, proper sleep, tobacco avoidance, etc.

Tell us about the composition of TCP.

Launched in September 2021, TCP currently comprises over 500 volunteers across 12 countries, including India, Thailand, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia, and 10 different chapters. Our team comprises a biological research team and content writer, and aspects such as fundraising, internships, social media, and more. During the initiation of TCP, within a day of launch, over 100 people joined us. And now, the TCP family has more than 500 volunteers dedicated to fostering change.

What draws you to technology?

I am currently pursuing technology and working on the intersection of cancer and tech-how can technology advance cancer treatment? How can Al, already existent in tools such as mammograms, be taken to the next level? I love coding because it allows me to turn my innovation into action. Aspects such as app development, website creation, design, and many more are the future.

Share with us a few of your initiatives and inventions.

I am a member of the QLS InvenTeam, which received a grant from MIT to create a device for communication for basketball athletes with hearing impairment. Apart from this, I am the president of the technology school club, and we are creating an app for cancer patients, alongside circulating smart devices for less privileged children.

Who inspires you to walk this path?

My grandmother, one of the kindest and strongest people I have ever met. She taught me what compassion, gratitude, and love look like. If I win any award, she's the cheerleader and always tears up, telling me how proud she is. In those days, women didn't have as many opportunities as youngsters have now. I'm grateful for the opportunities provided to me.

What are your future plans? What would you like to change in society?

I aspire to help the world take one step closer to equality. TCP does not discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and orientation. All our events / opportunities are free and we always promote hard-working volunteers to officer positions. To put it simply, we don't care where they come from, we care about their drive to be a changemaker. Such a mindset will create more entrepreneurs in the world with fewer problems. This equality helps me bring more and more future entrepreneurs from TCP.

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Sheldon Chong (15) and Emerson Chong (13) are award-winning siblings from Malaysia. They are authors, digital artists, musicians, animators, YouTubers, coders, game developers, workshop facilitators, entrepreneurs, and changemakers. They recently received the Silver YouTube Creator Award for reaching 100K subscribers, which they achieved within 10 months! They speak about their journey .

How did CyberLegends Animations come about?

Emerson: CyberLegends Animations is a YouTube channel 1 started. During the lockdown in 2020, 1 actively started creating and posting 2D animations on the channel. It all began when discovered a free animation app. Sheldon and I thought animation could be the next step in our art journey. Through the app. I learnt the tricks and a few tips to animate efficiently. When CyberLegends Animations started to grow, I started to animate based on popular games, giving them my own twist. Because we needed to produce animations quickly, consistently, and with high quality, Sheldon and I started to work together because he is skilled in digital art and can produce high quality work fast.

What are the awards you have won? Do you think that winning awards contributes to success?

Sheldon: We have won many awards locally and internationally. One of the competitions we participated in was the Young Entrepreneurs X-Factor in 2019. We had to pitch to the judges our solution to a problem. My idea was an Internet of Things-based smart parking system with an app that solves the problem of finding parking spaces. It uses cloud technology and Bluetooth to show data of parking spaces in real-time. Emerson's project was to gamify learning history, and he pitched the idea of a pixelated roleplay game that showcases Japan's history and culture. Emerson won the first place, and I was the runner-up in our respective age categories, winning scholarships to an international school. Recently, we took part in the Young Educators Challenge, in which we won the first place, which was a college scholarship. The objective was to teach a lesson online in a very engaging and innovative way. We combined roleplay and games to teach students in a fun way. We think awards are a result of success, through putting effort into your passion. Even if you don't win but learn something, that would still be a success.

Tell us about your journey in writing.

Emerson: We have written two children's story books each. "The Time Dimension" and "The Elementals" by Sheldon and "Attack of the Evil Clone" and "Egypto's Adventure" by me. These are fictional stories for kids and teens. We got into writing by reading comics and other books, and eventually, we were interested in writing stories and combining them with our illustrations to create books.

Tell us about your comic Earth Boy and the documentary about it.

Emerson: This started when I took part in the international UNICEF Climate Comic Contest, in which participants had to create their own eco superhero. I created a character called Earth Boy, and then I explained. his powers and backstory. As a e runner-up amongst 3,000 entries, my character got its own comic and was translated into Spanish, French, and Hindi. I collaborated with an artist in New York who helped me create this comic it was published by the UNICEF in New York in 2018. After the comic was released, I kind of used Earth Boy as a mascot. I drew more Earth Boy comics such as 'Earth Boy & Friends doing Beach Cleanup', and 'Earth Boy & Friends at the Mall, and shared them on social media. After hearing about my work, the United Nations sent a producer from the U.S. to film a short video about it. The video was about my work to inspire others to help save the Earth, using my creativity and art skills.

 You are into music. What kind of music do you play?

Sheldon: I play the piano, and Emerson plays the guitar and sings. With just the two of us, we started a small band. We perform mostly pop songs at functions, open mics, and charity events. Our parents encouraged us to play music, and eventually, playing live to the public helped boost our confidence to do even more.

What message do you have for your peers?

We think it is important to find and follow your passion. Through your passion, you can find ways to do so many other things. All the things that we have done, i.e. music, animation, writing, etc. came from our passion, drawing. Even if you don't have a passion, you can always learn something from books, a friend, the Internet, and more. Passion adds value to you and what you do.

As siblings, how does it feel to have somebody by your side who can help you?

Emerson: Well, we have our parents, who give us a lot of support in what we do. Drawing has been our passion since we were really young. and our parents supported us. They also took us to art galleries and museums to help us enrich our knowledge about art. They are never against what we do, and support our passion. We also are very supportive of each other. For example, Sheldon helps me with my animation through colouring digitally and making the thumbnails, while I animate and add sounds. Sometimes we do have our own views on how we want to do things, but there's always something where we work together.

What do you like to do in your free time, apart from your work in writing, animation, and art?

Emerson: I like creating art and crafts with paper and cardboard. Once I made my own card game and took it to school, and surprisingly, a lot of people played it! Sheldon likes sports, especially swimming, cycling, and kayaking.

What are your plans for the future? What is one thing you want to change in society?

Sheldon: We are probably going to write more books, and I want to learn to compose music, and Emerson wants to grow our YouTube channel to reach one million subscribers. We would like to change the mindset of people, to inspire them to follow their passion and to unfold their potential.

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She is a social entrepreneur youth changemaker author and young ambassador for Football for Friendship programme She is also the founder of Sports to Lead, an organisation working towards empowering girls and women.

Tell us about your journey, and how you got into football.

My journey began in 2017 when India hosted the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. It included an essay writing competition organised by Mission XI Million. I had written an article about how football fosters friendship and global relationships, and my essay was selected to represent India as a young journalist at the Football for Friendship programme in St. Petersburg, Russia. That programme changed me from a shy girl to a confident one. During the programme, we became united by a desire for a safer world with equal prosperity in all fields. We were also united by a passion for writing, communication, and curiosity. It reinforced my idea that you have to fight for honest and free journalism. I had both specialised as well as general training for various aspects of reporting and covering the major events during the programme. It taught me how to look at what makes a good human-interest story, and how to tell it in an informative and entertaining way. And when to look back for more background details, and why accuracy and fairness remain the cornerstones of reporting.

Describe your book "My Journey from Mohali to St. Petersburg".

This book is an anthology of 21 short stories about my experience and learnings from the Football for Friendship programme. The book focusses on the nine basic values promoted by the programme - fairness, equality, health, friendship, peace, devotion, victory, traditions, and honour. The book aims to present a holistic picture of what constitutes a good life, which transcends the prevalent, narrow understandings of success, fulfilment, and unhappiness in life.

What does your organisation Sports to Lead work for?

Through a series of workshops and awareness sessions, Sports to Lead will help empower young girls to fight discrimination and gender inequality. It also aims to bring to light several challenges faced by women sportspersons in India, which includes sexism and the lack of infrastructure, contracts, and popularity.

Why do you think Sustainable Development Goals are important?

It's very important to implement SDGS at the ground level. For instance, one can provide football pitches for government school students so they can have an opportunity to play and improve their mental as well as physical abilities. It's very important to have sessions regarding SDGS in schools to raise awareness among children so that they can take actions at their level to help this world become a safer, more peaceful and beautiful place for everyone.

What are your career plans?

I would like to become a journalist. I would also like to pursue the FIFA master programme, an international sports management course. I would like to pen down stories of inspirational sportspersons for FIFA and the Olympics.

What are your hobbies?

 I like to write in my free time, and read novels and other books. This has been my habit since I was in Class III or IV. I play sports such as football or basketball in the evening. I also cycle regularly with my younger sister.

Do you think having many achievements makes one a successful person?

I feel having many achievements doesn't make us a successful person, it is important to have values.

How do you manage your time between studies and sports?

 I follow a schedule. I have time slots for the activities I have been involved in. I guess maintaining a proper schedule or a timetable is the key for balancing all the activities we are involved in.

Who is your inspiration?

The biggest inspirations are my grandfather and father. My grandfather motivated me to read newspapers, and towards public speaking. He was involved in various social causes. He would take me along with him and ask me to speak there about social causes and so on. That helped build my confidence. My father is a journalist, and from him I understood how to develop the skills for journalism.

What is something about society that you wish to change?

There are two things I would like to change in society. The first one is to change people's mindsets - they should treat everyone equally. The second thing is that I would like to have sport as a main subject for the curriculum. Skills such as leadership and learning to differentiate between winning and losing, etc. can be learnt through sports.

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Nilabh Agrawal is the founder and CEO of Instilt - Educate, a non-profit with a mission to level the playing field between children who come from fortunate backgrounds and those who don't have the same privilege. He speaks about his experiences and journey.

What prompted you to create an organisation to support less privileged children?

Back in December 2020, when the pandemic was at its peak. I had only been in India for about a month, having moved from Sri Lanka. I went around the city of Mumbai and saw massive inequalities. You can see huge skyscrapers and really crowded shanties right next to each other. That instigated me to do something about it. Then we had some workers come over to our house, and when I met their children, I realised the pandemic had pushed them into online classes. like the rest of us. The pandemic helped the less privileged communities embrace the digital, opening them up to a world of opportunities. I wanted to capitalise on this silver lining and give them some unique exposure. They are just as smart as me and you, but their communication is often used to invalidate their intellect. They have great ideas, but since they struggle to communicate them, they are never heard. Our organisation hoped to help them compete with children from more fortunate backgrounds, and establish a level-playing field. At the beginning, we started with only a couple of children from our immediate network. but over time, we've grown substantially helping thousands of children across India.

According to World Health Organisation's research, students are facing many problems such as distractions and depression due to the online mode of education. What are your thoughts on this?

Speaking from the personal experience of the kids we saw, I think the majority of them have no more than one device in their household. In the case of siblings, one device is usually shared among three or even four sometimes. Internet access is another big challenge. All of these factors contribute to unreliable online experiences, which can be quite stressful for the students. They sometimes don't even know if they can stay connected till the end of a lesson. At the same time, I think what's important from what I've observed is that when the students find a community, it gets really easy. Since everyone is going through the same problems, including the tutors, the spirit of community can make it more tolerable and reduce a lot of the stress

Tell us about your experience of moving from Sri Lanka to India.

Both India and Sri Lanka are incredibly diverse in terms of cultures. India has diverse people speaking a myriad languages. Sri Lanka has many foreigners with whom I was able to interact. As for the mindset of students, in India. I see that 90% of my classmates want to do Engineering, and that's something we should address in our society. In Sri Lanka, people have diverse curricular and extracurricular interests, and want to enter many fields such as politics. arts, writing, etc. There's a lot more variety and flexibility. If Indians also start thinking more outside the box, I think it could be incredibly beneficial.

Who was your inspiration to start your venture?

I'm inspired by multiple people in my life, and generally the children I saw around me struggling with English. My initial thought was always about the challenges they would face when they grew up and sat in a job interview. What motivates me and what I suggest to people is that it is okay to have interests in different areas. The best advice I have got is to keep exploring and picking up new skills along the way. Try, try, try until you find what you really like. One of my seniors a long time ago told me. If you are looking to find your passion, think about what is something you can do at 3 a.m. and not worry about when you are going to sleep. That's your passion because it makes you lose track of time. How can people with a fear of public speaking overcome it? Early on, it was a little bit difficult for me too, but when you are confident they only get better through public speaking. When I was struggling, I began to research more and more on the topics I was speaking about. That's something you have to do when speaking for large crowds. If you are not confident, research about it until you are someone who knows everything about that particular topic. This is a huge confidence builder, and it definitely helped me. If you are shy and trying out public speaking for the first time, know what you're going to speak about and practise, because the more prepared you are, the more confident you are.

A few words of inspiration for our readers...

It's completely fine if you haven't still figured out your interest. All of us are in the same boat, and you still have the rest of your life to figure it out. Just don't stop trying things because you never know. Another piece of advice that has stuck with me is that You always have a choice and you have to create your own choices'. If you feel as if you are in a box, remember you have a choice. There's always a third option called 'None of the above. Whenever opportunity strikes, just say yes and open the door! Because if you don't try something, you'll never know if it would've worked out.

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